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Galway let title hopes slip away, Waterford to face Cats in semi

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

What is incontrovertible is that Waterford are through to another semi-final where they’ll meet the reigning champions and red-hot favorites, Kilkenny, but for lengthy periods at Thurles last Sunday, it looked as if their summer run was going to end in tears.
Sure, they were competitive and tenacious, yet the ball never truly rolled for them. Galway were clearly superior. Slicker, smoother, faster, the Westerners were deservedly six points clear with 20 minutes to go, and then four ahead with four minutes left. They had one foot in the semi-final.
But despite their dominance, Galway had never managed to put Waterford to the sword. Where there was life there was hope, and with the introduction of Dan Shanahan off the bench suddenly causing havoc in a previously secure Galway defense, Waterford somehow managed to plunder 1-2 in the dying minutes to snatch an improbable victory.
If there was much head-scratching as to why Shanahan hadn’t been let off the leash earlier, his brief cameo was critical to the outcome. He latched onto a couple of high balls, created a goal for another sub, Shane Walsh, who finished adroitly past Colm Callanan, and then drew the foul that led to Eoin Kelly tapping over the equalising free.
With the possibility of extra-time looming, and heart rates accelerating all around the ground, John Mullane gained possession on the left wing and fired over the winning point. No one, least of all a stricken Galway camp, could quite believe it.
“We received a lot of stick of the past year both as a management and as a team, and I think we’ve answered that,” said coach, Davy Fitzgerald. “We fought hard, we never gave up the ghost and we kept coming back, kept coming back, kept coming back.”
After watching his players make a couple of telling errors in those frenetic closing minutes, Galway’s John McIntyre was forced to reflect on what might have been. “With three or four minutes to go, I thought we were there. Their goal knocked the stuffing out of us. Maybe we lacked the killer instinct, but give credit to Waterford, we’re not making excuses. It was there for us, and we let it slip. That’s what will torment management and players. We just didn’t drive through. We left them hanging on and we paid the penalty.”
Kelly hit 0-12, including 11 frees, for the winners, while Joe Canning replied with 0-9 (three from play) for Galway. Crushed by 23 points in last year’s All Ireland final, Waterford gird their loins to take on Kilkenny once again in the last four.
There wasn’t quite the same joy and devastation in last weekend’s other quarter-final, but the Dublin hurlers still left Semple Stadium haunted by another near miss as they lost to Limerick by 2-18 to 1-17.
In the end, it was the little things that counted. Dublin had it, and then let it slip as Limerick’s greater nous and experience saw them over the line. There was little that separated the teams in terms of technique, and once again, it might’ve been that Dublin didn’t truly believe in themselves as they attempted to reach an All Ireland semi-final for the first time in 61 years.
“We looked like we’d weathered the storm, but every time we got two points ahead they seemed to get a free to nudge them back in touch again,” said Dublin coach, Anthony Daly. “We lost it a bit around the middle and at half-forward, I was proud of them but it wasn’t good enough to get there. Maybe it’s a learning curve but you can’t be learning all your life.”
Dublin began strongly with a Liam Rushe goal and even though they were on top, it was all-square at the interval as Limerick responded with two goals of their own through Paudie McNamara and a penalty from goalkeeper Brian Murray.
With Gavin O’Mahony in imperious form from placed balls, Limerick gradually gained the upper hand to earn the reward of a semi-final clash with Munster rivals Tipperary.

All Ireland hurling semi-finals
Kilkenny vs. Waterford, Croke Park, Sunday, Aug. 9; Tipperary vs. Limerick, Croke Park, Sunday, Aug. 16.

Meanwhile, in the battle to stave off relegation from the All Ireland championship to the Christy Ring Cup, Clare got the better of Wexford by 2-24 to 2-18 in Portlaoise, and Offaly easily defeated Antrim by 1-28 to 0-13 at Parnell Park. Clare and Offaly are safe, and Wexford meet Antrim in the relegation play-off.

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